Siding issues arise in the fire of a 20-story building in Milan

MILAN – Italian firefighters tackled hot spots on Monday at a 20-story apartment building in Milan that was destroyed by fire, but said there was no indication anyone was missing the interior, because questions were raised about the coating which, according to witnesses, quickly fueled the fire.

Some cases of smoke inhalation were reported during Sunday’s fire, but no serious injuries or deaths.

The blaze that sent out a huge plume of black smoke visible for miles (miles) was reminiscent of the deadly blaze that swept through the Grenfell Tower in London in 2017, killing 72 people. In this case, the exterior cladding of that building was blamed for the speed at which the fire engulfed the block, and officials noted similar problems in the Milan blaze.

“I have never seen such a situation,” said Giuliano Santagata, head of the fire department. “You just have to look at the facade and you see that everything is completely burnt out, and therefore assume that it was made of a flammable material.”

Santagata said the blaze was under control, although there were still outbreaks in some apartments which were systematically extinguished.

Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala said it was “unacceptable” that a building just over a decade old was showing itself so vulnerable.

“What already seems clear from the start is that the building’s exterior cladding has ignited far too quickly, in a dynamic reminiscent of the Grenfell Tower in London,” Sala said on Monday.

Experts said the lack of casualties was due to both the rapid response from firefighters and door-to-door searches as well as building codes that included firewalls and a sprawling stairwell.

The fire quickly spread along a sail-like siding, which was both an aesthetic choice and served as a screen for the balconies.

After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Italy drew up new rules, with the contribution of firefighters, for the cladding of buildings, but they have not yet been officially adopted, said Angelo Lucchini, professor of technical architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

The rules do not distinguish any particular product, such as the one used in the Grenfell Tower, but specify how to prevent the spread of flames along the facade.

Lucchini said the use of flammable materials per se is not necessarily a danger.

“It becomes dangerous when the use of this material does not take into account the potential danger, does not follow the design guidelines” and does not include other measures to mitigate the possible threat, he said.

He noted that not all of the Milan Tower panels had burned, indicating that there was a factor that hampered the spread of the fire in some areas.

The 60-meter (nearly 200-foot) tall building, part of a ten-year-old redevelopment project, was designed to resemble a ship’s keel and included the twin aluminum sails, which burnt and fell apart on the street.

The fire was reported on Sunday by a resident of the 15th floor, who sounded the alarm as he descended from the building, alerting other occupants. Among the residents was Italian rapper Mahmood, 2019 winner of the Sanremo Music Festival.

When firefighters arrived, the blaze was still mostly contained in one area, allowing them to evacuate the building, but it quickly spread up and down the coating, witnesses said.

“The cause of the fires has yet to be determined, but it appears that the rapid spread of the flames is due to the building’s thermal blanket,” said Carlo Sibia, an interior ministry official in Rome.

Firefighters broke down apartment-by-apartment doors looking for anyone left inside and telephoned residents. “There is no evidence of disappearance,” said Commander Felice Iraca.

Prosecutors were at the scene Monday and national arson investigators were also dispatched. Prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano said it was too early to speculate on the cause, but confirmed the fire started on the 15th floor.

In the Grenfell Tower fire, flammable coating and lax fire safety standards were blamed for the deadly June 2017 blaze at a high-rise residential tower in London. The fire started in the kitchen of an apartment and quickly engulfed the 24-story social housing block.

The Grenfell tragedy sparked high-rise building materials investigations and Britain pledged to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to remove similar combustible linings from dozens of other state-owned towers .

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Sylvia Hui contributed to this report from London

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